10 min read
29 Sep

Two iconic legends stand as pillars of automotive excellence in the world of sports cars—the Mazda MX-5 Miata and the Ford Mustang. The two represent different eras, philosophies, and continents, yet they share one remarkable distinction: they are among the best-selling sports cars of all time. But which of these automotive titans truly deserves the crown as the ultimate champion in the sports car arena? 

The MX-5 Miata, born from the idea of delivering pure driving pleasure, has enthralled enthusiasts for over three decades with its lightweight chassis, timeless design, and back-to-basics driving experience. On the other hand, the Ford Mustang, an embodiment of American muscle, has roared down highways and raced on tracks, delivering brute power, iconic style, and versatility for nearly six decades. 

In this head-to-head showdown, we'll revisit the histories, characteristics, and legacies of the MX-5 Miata and the Mustang. We'll examine their performance credentials, cultural significance, and their impact on the world of sports cars. And, of course, we'll see how one icon is the undisputed all-time king of sports cars as far as sales numbers are concerned. MX-5 or Mustang—let the battle for supremacy begin. 

Related Reading: Why The Porsche 911 Is The Quintessential Sports Car 

1. The Mazda MX-5 Miata

  • Production Years: Since 1989
  • Sales Numbers: 1,000,000+
Mazda MX-5 Miata overview.

In 2016, the Mazda MX-5 Miata, often simply referred to as the Miata, became the world's best-selling 2-door convertible in history after crossing the 1 million units threshold. 

Since its debut in 1989, it has captured the hearts of driving enthusiasts worldwide with its blend of classic roadster styling, affordability, and exhilarating driving experience. 

A. The Jinba Ittai Design Direction

Miata Jinba Ittai design.

The Miata's design philosophy is rooted in the principles of "Jinba Ittai," which means "rider and horse as one" in Japanese. This concept emphasizes a close connection between the driver and the car. The exterior design reflects this philosophy with its sleek and timeless lines. The car features a long, sloping hood, a short rear deck, and a low-slung profile, all of which contribute to its classic and sporty appearance. 

B. The Iconic Miata Convertible Top

Miata convertible top.

 One of Miata’s standout features is its convertible top. It comes in two varieties: a soft top and a retractable hardtop. 

The easy-to-operate soft-top gives drivers the freedom to enjoy open-air motoring in a matter of seconds, while the hardtop variant offers added security and noise insulation while still retaining the roadster's attractive silhouette. 

C. The MX-5’s Thrilling Performance

The MX-5 Miata performance.

The Miata's lightweight construction, typically around 2,300 to 2,500 pounds, contributes to its remarkable agility and handling. It's available with a variety of engines over the years, with the most common being a 2.0-liter inline-4 or a 1.5-liter inline-4, depending on the market. 

While the horsepower figures may not be staggering, the car's exceptional balance and responsiveness make it a joy to drive, especially on winding roads. 

D. The Enthusiast-Focused Manual Gearbox

Mazda MX-5 Miata manual transmission.

A key element of the Miata's driving experience is the availability of a crisp and precise manual transmission. This feature allows drivers to fully engage with the car, offering a level of control and engagement that's increasingly rare in modern sports cars

E. The Straightforward Interior

Mazda Miata interior.

Inside the Miata, the cabin is snug and driver-focused. The typically simple and functional dashboard always features intuitive controls. 

The architecture keeps the driving position low while the seats are supportive, further enhancing the connection between the driver and the car. While not overly spacious, Miata’s interior is comfortable for two occupants and gives off a cozy, cockpit-like vibe. 

F. The MX-5’s Cultural Impact

MX-5 Miata cultural impact.

Beyond its engineering excellence, the Miata has left an indelible mark on automotive culture. It has been featured in countless movies, television shows, and video games, cementing its status as a pop culture icon. 

Car enthusiasts often praise it for its affordability, reliability, and ease of modification. The MX-5 has always been the machine of choice for racing and tuning. 

G. The MX-5 Generations

Mazda MX-5 generations.

The Miata has gone through four generations, each building upon the previous one's strengths. These iterations have seen improvements in safety, technology, and refinement while staying true to the car's core principles of lightweight, rear-wheel drive, and driver-focused dynamics. 

2. Ford Mustang

  • Production Years: Since 1964
  • Production Numbers: About 10,000,000
Ford Mustang overview.

The Ford Mustang is an iconic American sports car and down-right the best-selling sports car of all time. Since its debut in 1964, the Mustang has left an indelible mark on the automotive world, blending classic American muscle with modern performance and technology. 

A. The Iconic ‘Stang Design

Ford Mustang design.

The Mustang's design has evolved over the decades but has always maintained its distinctive and aggressive styling. The classic long hood, short deck, and fastback roofline are unmistakable features. 

The Mustang's wide stance and bold front grille give it a commanding presence on the road. 

B. The Muscular Performance

Ford Mustang performance.

At the heart of the Mustang's appeal is its powerful performance. It has relied on a range of engines for propulsion, from V6 and V8 options to high-performance variants like the Shelby GT350 and GT500. 

These engines deliver immense horsepower and torque figures intended to make the Mustang a true muscle car legend. Additionally, rear-wheel drive has been a staple of the Mustang's layout, contributing to its spirited driving dynamics. 

C. The Mustang Manual

2016 Ford Mustang transmission.

While automatic transmissions are available, the Mustang is renowned for its manual transmission option. Enthusiasts appreciate the tactile feel and control that a manual gearbox provides. Far be it from the Mustang to deny them this pleasure. 

D. The American-Sized Interior

Ford Mustang interior.

In recent years, Ford has improved the Mustang's interior with modern amenities and technology. The cabin is spacious and comfortable for a sports car. 

It typically uses a driver-centric layout, complete with supportive seats. High-quality materials and advanced infotainment systems have elevated the Mustang's interior to compete with more upscale sports cars. 

E. Cultural Impact

Ford Mustang cultural impact.

The Mustang has featured in numerous movies, TV shows, and songs, all of which helped solidify its status as an American icon. The Mustang sparked a wave of competition from other automakers in the 1960s thanks to its significant role in the ‘60s "pony car" craze. 

While the Mustang is firmly rooted in American culture, it has a strong global presence. Ford has made efforts to make the Mustang available in international markets, offering right-hand drive variants and tailoring the car to suit different regions' preferences. 

This has helped the Mustang gain a passionate following around the world. The Mustang's global appeal is evident in the teeming enthusiasts and eager collectors it enjoys around the world. 

F. The Mustang Generations

Ford Mustang generations.

The Mustang has undergone seven generations and is the fifth-best-selling Ford car. Each Mustang generation brings advancements in performance, safety, and technology. 

Notably, the Mustang embraced fuel efficiency and modern amenities while preserving its signature performance characteristics. In fact, the 7th-gen could be the last ICE-powered ‘Stang, as Ford has hinted at a battery-electric Mustang by 2029

G. The Mustang Special Editions

Ford Mustang special editions.

Throughout its history, Ford has released numerous special edition Mustangs, from the Bullitt, Mach 1, and Boss 302 to the GTs, SVOs, and Dark Horse. These limited-production models pay homage to the Mustang's heritage and offer unique styling and performance enhancements. 

In recent years, Ford has introduced eco-friendly variants of the Mustang, particularly the Mustang Mach-E all-electric SUV. 

This move toward electrification represents a significant shift in the pony car landscape, demonstrating Ford's commitment to adapting the Mustang to meet evolving environmental and performance expectations. 

The Ford Mustang Racing Heritage

Ford Mustang racing.

The Mustang's performance prowess extends to the world of motorsports. Ford has a rich racing history with the Mustang, competing in various events like NASCAR, Trans-Am, and even international competitions like the 24 Hours of Le Mans

Related Reading: Mazda KAI Concept And Vision Coupe: The Timeless Marvel, Features, And Innovations That Continue To Mesmerize In 2023 

Mazda MX-5 Miata vs. Ford Mustang

Ford Mustang versus Mazda Miata.

Clearly, both sports cars are legends in their own rights and have their dedicated fan bases, but they offer distinct driving experiences and cater to different types of enthusiasts. 

The decision ultimately depends on whether you're looking for a traditional, lightweight roadster thrill or the roar of American V8 power. Here’s how they compare: 

Mazda MX-5 Miata: The Pure Roadster

The MX-5 Miata is the epitome of the classic roadster. It's a lightweight, nimble, and driver-focused sports car that excels in a pure and unadulterated driving experience. Here's why it stands out:

Ford Mustang: The American Muscle Icon

The Mustang is an American muscle car legend. It embodies the spirit of raw power and aggressive styling. Here's why it's an icon:
1. Agility and Nimbleness: The Miata's lightweight chassis and responsive handling make it a joy to drive on twisty backroads. Its compact size enhances the driver's sense of connection to the road and encourages spirited driving.1. Muscle and Performance: The Mustang is all about big, powerful engines and straight-line speed. It offers a wide range of engine options, including V8s that produce thunderous horsepower and torque figures.
2. Convertible Top Simplicity: The Miata's easy-to-operate soft-top or hardtop convertible provides an unmatched open-air experience. It's perfect for those who want the wind in their hair without any fuss.2. Versatility: The Mustang is not just a weekend toy; owners can use it as a daily driver. Its more spacious interior and amenities enhance its practicality for everyday use.
3. Affordability: It's relatively affordable for a sports car, making it accessible to a wide range of enthusiasts. Maintenance and running costs are also reasonable, and that’s a significant plus.3. Customization: With various trim levels, special editions, and performance packages, the Mustang offers a high level of customization. Enthusiasts can tailor their Mustang to suit their preferences and performance goals.
4. Simplicity: Some may view the Miata's simplicity as a drawback, but it's a feature for purists who appreciate a back-to-basics sports car with a manual transmission and minimalistic design.4. Iconic Status: The Mustang has a rich history and a global fan base. It's a symbol of American muscle and performance, and its aggressive design turns heads wherever it goes.

The Verdict

Ford Mustang is the best-selling sports car of all time.

So, what is the best-selling sports car of all time? With nearly 10 million units sold globally across seven design generations, the Ford Mustang is the undisputed king of sports cars – the best-selling sports car ever. 

In the end, choosing between the MX-5 Miata and the Mustang comes down to personal preferences and priorities. The Miata is the clear choice for those who prioritize pure driving pleasure, a lightweight and nimble roadster experience, and affordability. 

However, if you crave raw power, muscular presence, and the versatility of a daily driver with a dose of American muscle heritage, then the Mustang is the way to go.

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